What do I do when my heart, loaded down by the weight of my anxieties, just keeps sinking?
In these moments, “rational” vs. “irrational” fear makes no difference to me. I know in my theological head that no fear is truly rational now, except the fear of God, because I’m safe in Christ; yet I am afraid, just the same, and there’s no use pretending I’m not.
Maybe I can admit it, like the psalmist: “When I am afraid… I put my trust in Thee.”
The Lord knows I haven’t arrived at that second half yet–not when these what ifs keep rising up.
What if… something happens to our child?
What if… my husband stops being attracted to me?
What if… no one actually likes me?
What if… we run out of money to pay the bills?
What if… my health goes bad and I can’t take care of our household?
What if… someone in my family dies again?
What if… I end up alone and abandoned?
What if… I’m not a true believer?
They look silly typed out, my deepest fears written so unemotionally on a computer screen.
But wasn’t it just this morning when, after my husband left for work, I crumpled down on the couch, hugging a pillow, letting the tears welling up in my eyes finally escape?
I don’t think I’m the only one who battles against these what ifs of life, and even knowing that comforts me. I also realize that so many women have even scarier what ifs they are facing right now. Maybe even you, reading this.
We think of the times when our what ifs come true. When they are no longer hypotheticals, but heart-breaking realities. I felt that way when, as a ten-year-old girl, I found my mother’s lifeless body on her bedroom floor. I’d been paranoid about losing her, paranoid about death; and suddenly, it was right there, sharing space with me, invading me, and she was gone forever. God taught me then that sometimes our worst fears do come true.
But then He taught me, ten years later, when my father followed my mother to the grave, how to face grief as a Christian; that what gives us hope is not that we’ll avoid the worst, but that He is sufficient for even the deepest suffering.
I learned this again when I struggled with depression in my early 20s–when the lies of the enemy told me to give up, to give in to suicidal thoughts– and I thought I’d never make it. I wrestled with the idea that God had abandoned me, left me in a black pit of despair, never to rise again. I had no comfort, no assurance, no light; Satan planting the seed of doubt in my mind, Where is your God? And it began to grow, like a carnivorous plant, eating away at my faith…
Yet somehow out of that darkest time, the Lord transformed me, showing me such depths of His love for me that it was worth all the pain. To my own surprise, I became thankful for the trial. I saw that God’s willingness to put my faith through the fire was proof that I belonged to Him, that He was sure it would survive–because He put it there….
That even when I felt utterly lost and hopeless, Christ’s persevering love kept me clinging to Him, loving Him, believing in Him:
In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials, that the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ, whom having not see you love. Though now you do not see Him, yet believing, you rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory, receiving the end of your faith—the salvation of your souls. (1 Peter 1:6-9)
My communion with Him was never closer than in those desperate hours. And over time, new, beautiful words were birthed in my soul: Even if.
Even if God sovereignly takes away our child…
Even if I lose the approval of my husband…
Even if other people reject me…
Even if we run out of money and lose our home…
Even if I develop a terminal illness…
Even if Death comes knocking at our door…
Even if all human companions fail me…
Even if my assurance is shaken and I doubt my faith…
Yet I will persevere, because I have Christ–and He is sufficient for me.
We are not people who look at the world through rose-tinted glasses or naively go about our lives, thinking the what ifs can never happen. We know God better than that. We’re not in denial about the darknesses of His providence.
Neither are we like those who ultimately find our confidence in riches or worldly comforts, or even our loved ones. We know all these things can and often do fail us. After all, Jesus, the One we follow, had no where to lay His head, and was abandoned by His friends the night of His cruel and undeserving death on their behalf. He’s the same One who tells us to pick up our crosses and come after Him. We Christians are like Him, people of sorrows, acquainted with grief.
But are we not also people of faith? We have an enduring faith we can’t brag about, because it’s a gift; yet it’s true faith, authored and perfected by Christ.
Faith moves believers from what if to even if—and it’s been doing this for centuries. Over and over again in Scripture, we see the children of God, declaring in the face of the most frightening situations that even if they must suffer, yet they will persevere because they have Christ.
We see this in Abraham, heeding those fearful words from the mouth of His Father: “Take now your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering…” Abraham, rising up in the morning without delay, obeying Him, trusting that even if Isaac must die, the Lord who keeps His promises could raise him from the dead.
And in Moses, leaving behind the riches and royalty of Egypt to suffer with God’s people, bearing with them over four decades in the desert, knowing that even if he never saw the Promised Land, God would take him the true Promised Land–the heaven of His presence.
And in lovely Esther, who valued her God more than the vanities of men. She risked swift death by approaching Xerxes’ throne to save her people, but in her heart she decided, even if I perish, yet I will lay down my life and cast myself into the arms of Him who loves me.
And in Job, who cried out in the midst of the greatest suffering: Even if He slays me, yet will I trust Him.
And in David, sweetly singing, Even if I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, yet I will fear no evil, for You are with me.
And in those three faithful friends, Shadrach, Meschach, and Abed-Nego, who stared down the fiery furnace and placed their trust in the Lord, that even if God chose not to deliver them from the flames, yet they would rather die than bow down to idols or worship any other than their one true King.
And in the prophet Habakkuk, surrounded by famine and war, wrestling with God over His justice, but finally able to say, Even if the fig tree does not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines… yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will joy in the God of my salvation.
And lastly, in Paul and Silas, locked away in a prison cell, not knowing whether or not they would face execution in the morning, yet singing hymns to God through the night, believing that even if the sword of persecution falls, being with Jesus is far, far better. To live is Christ, and to die is gain.
Even Jesus our Lord, who never entertained a what if but always maintained perfect trust in the Father, when He knelt in the Garden, fell on His face to pray: “O My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will.”
Should this not be the cry of our own souls? Not as I will, but as You will.
The remedy of our anxiety–yielding ourselves to Him and His will. We offer up our prayers to God, our hopes and desires, yet we entrust our hearts to Him, and the peace of Christ that surpasses knowledge fills us to the brim.
When I was unsaved, suffering looked like utter chaos and disaster. It looked like hopelessness. But after God saved me, something changed. Suffering lost some of its power and fearfulness. It went being from a scary monster under my bed to a lion on a leash. Then, as I suffered as a Christian, it changed even more… now, into a tool in my loving Father’s hand: painful but pruning, excruciating yet redemptive.
I began to know, not just on the pages of the Bible but in my own experience, “that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28).
Nothing gives me more comfort than realizing that all things means all things. I can view every single tragedy in my life, no matter how awful, as part of the loving plan of God specifically designed for my good and His glory.
I pray that you too can find comfort in these truths.
And when you find yourself trapped and imprisoned in the what ifs of your heart, you can see them as even ifs leading to the yet I have Christ that will set you free.